If you're new to casino gambling, you might easily be intimidated by the lights, sounds, and people. Large stacks of chips and the smell of money and desperation carry a lot of weight. Fortunes are won. Fortunes are lost.
Your goal is to avoid losing a fortune while having a chance at winning a small fortune. More importantly, you want to be able to have fun gambling in a casino while still being able to relax.
This guide to surviving and thriving in any casino in the world offers tips for how to do just that.
Every game in a casino offers the house a mathematical edge. You don't need a PhD in math to understand how probability stacks the odds in the casino's favor, either. I'll explain most of what you need to understand here.
Consider roulette. It's an easy game that's been played for centuries. A standard roulette wheel in the United States has 38 possible outcomes, each of which is equally likely. 18 of those are red, 18 are black, and 2 are green. Your odds of winning if you bet on black or red is the same—18/38.
Probabilities are always expressed as a number between 0 and 1. Something with a probability of 0 is never going to happen. Something with a probability of 1 will always happen.
You have multiple ways of expressing a number between 0 and 1. A fraction, like 18/38, is one way. Another is to express it as a percentage, which is usually pretty easy to understand. In this example, the percentage probability of winning your bet is 47.36%.
If you bet on black 38 times in a row, and if every possible outcome came up once, you'd win 18 times and lose 20 times. That's how the casino gets its edge.
This mathematical edge holds true for every game. It's referred to as the house edge, which is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to retain in the long run. In a roulette game, the house edge is 5.26%, which means that the casino expects to win $5.26 every time you bet $100.
As long as you understand that the casino always has this edge, you can relax. It means that nothing you can do will make you into a long-term winner. Anyone who gambles in a casino long enough will eventually come out a loser, because probability will ensure it.
That's why casinos are such profitable businesses. You find rare opportunities where rare gamblers use rare strategies to get an edge over the casino. This is called advantage gambling. But it's outside the realm of this article, and most recreational gamblers aren't interested in putting in the work required to learn how to count cards or otherwise get an edge over the casino.
The main implication of remembering that the house always has the edge is simple:
Don't play with money you can't afford to lose.
The odds are against you.
In almost every casino in the world, you'll find a booth or desk where you can join the players club. Some casinos call it the slots club, but it's the same thing. Joining this club should be the first item on your casino to-do list.
When you join, you'll be given a plastic card. When you're playing casino games, this card will track how much money you're putting into action. The casino takes your expected loss and multiplies it by a tiny percentage in order to provide you with rewards for your play.
For example, you might be playing slots with a 10% house edge. The casino might return 10% of that to you in the form of rewards.
So if you're playing for $100 per spin, and you're making 600 spins per hour, you're putting $60,000 into action each hour. The casino's expected profit from that is $600. If you're using your player's card, the casino will credit $60 toward your awards.
These perks can include things like ball caps, casino shirts, rooms, meals, and even travel. High rollers are notorious for negotiating the best perks possible in exchange for their action.
Also, there's no downside to joining the players club. The slot machines pay out the same regardless of whether or not you have the card inserted. The casino WANTS you to get excited about the perks you're receiving, because you'll gamble more. In the long run, that makes the casino more money.
You can also use your players' club card at the table games like blackjack and craps. Just ask the dealer what you need to do in order to get credited for your play there.
Your goal when deciding which game to play should be based on how much fun you're going to have compared to how much money you can expect to lose over time. Slot machines are really easy, but they're usually the most profitable games for the casino. The house edge is relatively high, and the amount of money you put into action in a slot machine per hour is also high.
Blackjack, on the other hand, is a little harder to play. But if you're good at it, the house edge is very low.
Some people prefer the relative solitude and low pressure aspect of slots. They also like the opportunity to hit a big jackpot.
Others enjoy the challenge of making the best decisions at the blackjack table. They also like the opportunity to socialize with other gamblers.
Experiment with the different games, but keep your focus on having fun. Remember—the odds are against you anyway. You're going to leave the casino a loser most of the time.
You want to at least have memories of how much fun you had while you were there.
In most casino games, strategy has no effect on your outcome. For example, in roulette, every spin of the wheel is an independent event. You have the same 1/38 chance of getting a specific number on every spin, no matter what. No strategy can change that probability.
But in video poker and blackjack, you make decisions about how to play your cards. Your decisions make a difference.
If that appeals to you, then try these games. You'll be rewarded with a lower house edge.
If that doesn't appeal to you, stick with craps, slots, and roulette. Not everyone wants to make decisions that affect the outcome.
As a general rule, the easier a casino game is to understand and play, the higher the house edge. This means that games like slot machines and roulette generally carry the highest house edge.
More difficult games, like craps or blackjack, have a lower house edge.
Craps is more difficult because of the complexity of the rules, but you can't employ any kind of strategy other than sticking with the simple bets.
Blackjack is more difficult because of the complexity of the rules, and you have the opportunity to make decisions which increase or decrease your chances of walking away a winner.
Easy games usually have a house edge of 5% or more. Hard games usually have a house edge of 2% or less.
Any time you're confused about what's happening in a casino, ask for help. The dealers are paid to be helpful. Sure, you'll sometimes catch a dealer having a bad day. But for the most part, they're helpful and polite.
You can even ask a dealer to help you figure out how to play a game. They will have a limited amount of time to spend with you if the table is busy. But if you can hit the tables at a slow time, the dealer will usually walk you through how to play.
I learned to play blackjack from a bored dealer in the afternoon when no other players were in the casino.
Many casinos also offer free classes in how to play their more complicated games. These are usually advertised in the casino's brochure, but if they're not, ask the front desk or the concierge. These classes usually take place in the middle of the afternoon, which is often a slower time during the casino.
I learned to play craps during one of these classes.
I also learned something else during the craps class. Don't listen to strategy advice during a casino game class held by a casino. It's almost always wrong.
In craps, for example, only a handful of bets are worth making. You should stick with those and avoid the more complicated bets. The teachers of the craps classes aren't likely to explain that part to you.
You can also get a good feel for how to play various casino games by playing online. Nowadays you can find realistic simulations of almost any casino game you can imagine. In fact, you can play them for free or for real money.
Blackjack at a real live casino is much easier if you've had some practice online first. Craps is too. Take advantage of modern technology and practice online.
You'll be glad you did.
Even though a casino seems like a scary place, you don't have to be scared. Stick with the simple bets, relax, and ask for help. Focus on having fun.
The rest will take care of itself at any casino in the world.